The alliance between the “brothers” Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, which was forged in order to form a coalition, has helped Bennett and his Habayit Hayehudi party portray themselves to the Israeli public as a young, innovative, liberal alternative. But after less than a year in the government, cracks have formed in this alliance, and they recently widened to the point of an open break. Habayit Hayehudi’s true face is gradually being revealed: It’s not a party of “high-tech” or “new politics,” but a nationalist, conservative religious movement that stands for apartheid, discrimination, occupation and preserving the religious-civic status quo, which makes life difficult for most Israelis.
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This alliance has made some of Lapid’s voters feel cheated, since they see that their votes have ultimately strengthened the rule of extremist settlers in the form of MKs Uri Ariel and Orit Strock. Now that Habayit Hayehudi has blocked all the bills Yesh Atid proposed to sever the connection between the Jewish religion and civic life – tax credits for gay parents, preventing discrimination against homosexuals on issues such as obtaining mortgages, and a reform of Israel’s divorce laws – it seems the time has come to put an end to this alliance.
Yesh Atid’s parliamentary activism on issues of separating religion from state reflects Lapid’s belated realization that his voters didn’t elect him to protect the settlements of Beit El, Elkana and Givat Assaf, but to protect their own right to live in a democratic state governed by liberal rather than religious law. Bennett, the economy minister, talks a lot about innovation and progress, on the basis of his experience as a high-tech entrepreneur. But by turning its back on every initiative and reform related to core Israeli concerns in the diplomatic and civic arenas, his party has exemplified the exact opposite.
The Israeli public – including those Israelis who don’t hate religion but rather integrate religious customs into their lives – is ripe for civic reforms that would sever the connection between religion and state, which no government has ever dared try to unravel. It is even demanding such reforms.
Lapid must continue the trend of distancing himself from Bennett that he has begun, and advance the civic reforms necessary to bring Israel into line with the world’s liberal democracies, in which personal matters such as the choice of a partner, and the method of marriage, divorce and burial are left up to the individual’s choice. He must break with Bennett.